It’s been 24 years since a Kentucky Derby winner won the Breeders’ Cup Classic. During those 24 years, only eight Derby winners even made it to the Classic, and only one of them finished in the money. That horse was California Chrome, who finished third, beaten only two necks. And he managed to accomplish that with only one prep race since the Belmont Stakes and not getting a lot out of that race, for which he had to travel across the country. The only two Derby winners who won the Classic the same year – Sunday Silence and Unbridled – both went into the Classic off a pair of mile and a quarter stakes.
In addition to his feat of competing in and running a huge race in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, California Chrome became the only Kentucky Derby winner ever to win a grade I race at 3 after the Classic, and that was the grade I Hollywood Derby on grass. By winning the Hollywood Derby, California Chrome became only the second Kentucky Derby winner in history to win a grade I stakes on grass that same year. The other horse to accomplish that feat was Secretariat.
To have a horse win stakes in January, March, and April, then win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and a grade I stakes on Nov. 29 requires an amazing training job. The 77-year-old Art Sherman, with help from his son Alan, actually got California Chrome to win stakes from Dec. 22 to Nov. 29, including four grade Is and a grade II and two Triple Crown events, and nearly pulling off the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
And let’s not forget that Perry Martin and Steve Coburn owned and bred California Chrome, who was the result of a mating between their $8,000 claiming mare and a $2,500 stallion.
So, why was Sherman not even a finalist for leading trainer in the Eclipse Award voting, and why wasn’t Martin and Perry not a finalist in either the owner or breeder category? We won’t even get into why Flaxman Holdings was not a finalist in either category despite owning and breeding two Breeders’ Cup winners, a finalist for Horse of the Year and Older Male, and two finalists in the Male Grass category,
Once again, Eclipse voters went by statistics to come up with their three finalists in the owner and breeder categories, ignoring the exceptional individual accomplishments that actually made a major impact on the sport.
If California Chrome is voted Horse of the Year, it is inconceivable to think that none of his connections – owner, breeder, trainer, and jockey – will be even be an Eclipse finalist.
Did voters snub Martin and Coburn because of the latter’s unfortunate comments following the Belmont Stakes that caused a furor throughout the sports world? While Coburn was attacked mercilessly on social media, few people saw his generosity with the fans, as he interacted with them, posing for photos and signing autographs. Watching him with the fans who cheered him outside the walking ring at Parx Racing before the Pennsylvania Derby, you would never guess this was a person who had been vilified so severely for his actions.
But this isn’t the time to rehash all that. It is only hoped his Belmont Stakes faux pas did not influence the voters and that they had a legitimate reason for ignoring what he and Martin accomplished in bringing California Chrome into the world and for the positive impact they made on racing on a national level prior to the Belmont.
As for Sherman, it is hard to deny that Todd Pletcher had an excellent year statistically, and that Bob Baffert and Chad Brown dominated the major stakes, especially Brown’s huge success in the Breeders’ Cup and Baffert winning his first Classic, leaving little room for Sherman to sneak into the top three. But sometimes, one person’s statistics can be superseded by a single extraordinary feat of great national importance if one wishes to step out of the box once in a while. And has there been a better representative for racing than Sherman at a time when racing needed all the wit, wisdom, and conviviality that he provided all year. One meeting with Sherman and you felt as if you’ve known him all your life. Those qualities normally do not equate to being named a finalist for an Eclipse Award, but his masterful job with California Chrome certainly does.
And as for California Chrome himself, racing had a handsome, glamour star with tons of charisma to show off to the public; one who dominated the first five months of the year with machine-like precision, bursting clear of his opponents race after race. Each day, the morning sun would set his coat aglow as he would stop to pose for the photographers who flocked to him in droves, knowing it was impossible to get a bad photo of him. His white face and legs and golden coat were seen all over Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. He was a true media star, regal in appearance; oblivious to the fact that he was not to the manor born.
If California Chrome is voted Horse of the Year, it is hoped that when Martin, Coburn, and Sherman go up to the stage to accept the statue, the cheers will also be for them for providing the country with a horse who shone brightly at a time when racing’s stage was often going dark.
The sun seems to explode off California Chrome each morning.
Chrome and Willie Delgado have become quite a pair.
California Chrome emerges from the tunnel. Just another quiet morning, right?
Uh, not quite. Chrome eyes the frenzy of photographers.